Learning and thriving…

Chickens are definitely a new learning curve for me.  So naturally, I’ve done what I always do-I read and research extensively, then I point my toes and leap.  And, per the usual, there’s always, always always (!) an early misstep.  The good news is, the chickens are alive and well.  The bad news is, for a few days there, it seemed as though I had inadvertently put their health in jeopardy. The culprit?

The common Red Cedar tree.  You see, they take these trees, and make stuff with them.  One of the many products available made from red cedar are cedar shavings.  These are manufactured and packaged for use with small animals.  I found them at a bargain while readying my chicken coop for the ladies, and thought, this is a great idea.  The cedar will help with the chicken smell (ewww) and should have some anti-bug properties to boot.

Fast forward to Thursday of last week.  I’m bleary eyed, reading an article on the deep litter method before going to bed for the evening. About two thirds of the way through the article ( frankly I was almost asleep) I read the following words “….cedar shavings are toxic to chickens and should never be used.”   Bleepity, bleep, bleep!! I said to myself, and for the next hour and a half, I scoured the internet for more information.

The bottom line as far as my research took me, is that there is no bottom line.  A lot of people are convinced cedar is toxic to chickens (as well as other small animals).  It’s discussed in chicken forums across the web that red cedar’s aromatic properties can actually create respiratory issues for the birds and in fact, can kill them.  I couldn’t find any conclusive (and by that I mean cited, scientific, etc) point of reference that gave me the 411 on cedar’s effects on chickens.  On top of which, there are folks out there who say they’ve used cedar shavings as part of their bedding mix for years and had no problems.

What did I do?  Well, my philosophy is this:  If there’s a chance something might kill your chickens, and you don’t want your chickens to die, then quit doing the thing that might kill them.  So I spent the better part of an incredible, beautiful Saturday morning mucking out a chicken coop.

What did I replace the cedar with?  Well, I know you’ll find it hard to believe, but for every bedding material available and used, there’s someone who’s going to say it’s no good for your chickens.  I found folks who think pine shavings are toxic, and then there are folks who use pine religiously.  Some folks are sold on hay, and some folks say it tends to mold and is a mess to try to compost.  So, I used pine shavings and threw some hay on top  and in the nesting boxes for good measure.  I love these chickens, but I don’t see any backyard chicken death epidemics and people are using these materials left and right.

So today, I reached out to my county extension office and asked them.  The agri-extension representative said,

“I can’t speak with authority about cedar shavings, but will try to find out. I do know that pine shavings and/or rice hulls are the preferred bedding materials for the poultry industry. I believe this is for the absorption value of these materials. I will forward your question to someone in the poultry department at TAMU and see what they say.”

TAMU is Texas A&M University, and as soon as I know, I will let you guys know.

So at least for the time being, the Hogwarts quartet are thriving.  And me? I’m still learning…

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